Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fire and Lightning

I spent a lot of my free time yesterday afternoon reading Charles Taylor's blog Spells and Steel, in which he records his ideas and thoughts while designing an RPG system that simulates "a low-magic, 14th-century Europe." It's good stuff, a lot of it combat based...which is, of course, totally my cup of tea. Hell, a lot of his concepts and conclusions are ones I've already reached (and sometimes implemented myself), so he's a guy after my own heart...though one with a lot more background in real medieval fighting. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing his game, once it's in a published form.

But...isn't there always a "but?" Maybe...BUT it also got me thinking this: do we really need another low-magic, medieval Europe game that's dark and gritty and realistic even in the abstract? Haven't I been doing too much of that kind of thing myself?

Actually, this has nothing to do with Mr. Taylor's project; his thing looks pretty cool. This is a post I've been wanting to write since...mmm, since about 20 minutes after I posted my last post on chopping spell saves.

One of the things I tried to do with Five Ancient Kingdoms was remove some of the "wa-hoo" factor of D&D while still keeping a "magical" feeling to it. That was not really a design goal I had PRIOR to starting the project: my original concept was something "gritty, low-magic, sword & sorcery-style" with "lots of sand and turbans." What I ended up with was Golden Age Islam and 1001 Arabian Nights. That's what happens when you try to find a way to justify clerics in a non-Western European setting.


ANYway, I like the end result (mostly), as it turned out plenty magical and yet less "wa-hoo" except in (perhaps) the way Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movies are (at least they're grounded in some real world mythology/folklore). It's not all white-hooded assassins and blazing sword paladins and wizards blasting shit with fire and lightning. And yet...

And yet, as I work (off and on) on yet another FHB...this one smaller in scope and more basic in design (and more typical in dice shape)...I find myself wondering: should there be maybe just a bit more, "wahoo?"

I left fireballs and lightning bolts out of Five Ancient Kingdoms because it didn't fit with the Arabian Nights concept...didn't fit with the S&S concept for that matter. I wanted to keep the killing of things to cold steel, rather than elemental magic. Let fighters fight and magicians"magical things." Yes, the magical folks have a few spells that do auto-killing niftiness, but generally they aren't dealing damage with their magic.

And, when I consider the new game, I kind of like the idea of a sorcerer who can strike someone dead "with fire and lightning." Probably not a dragon, of course...but I do like the image from the film Dragonslayer where Ulrich is standing on a mountain, doing his Aleister Crowley impression, pulling lightning from the clouds. I kind of like the idea of "mystic lightning" in the same vein as, say, Return of the Jedi or Big Trouble in Little China.

"See? That was nothing. But that's how it starts..."
I don't want battlefield magic of the Chainmail variety (which is what was adapted to D&D), dudes just hurling balls of death 'like it ain't no thang.' But I do like the idea of a wizard with a mad on incinerating some miscreant mundane with elemental magic just for the chump's impudence. Ya' know what I'm saying?

Anyway, the new FHB is supposed to be more fantastical, heroic in nature and, if not psychedelically outrageous, at least a bit more whimsical (and, yet, dark). Mood is a tough thing to convey through a design process, though some RPGs have succeeded in the past...not just with art and presentation, but with rules and mechanics.

So, since I've decided to axe saving throws, I think I can spare an extra page to add a few more spells to the list. This is shaping up to be a decent game...too bad it's going to be a few months before I can try play-testing it.


  1. How about Tim The Enchanter:

    1. @ Leicester:

      Ha! I'd forgotten that one.

      As an aside: I really dig curly horned wizards.
      : )

    2. If I were a wizard I'd totally rock the horned helmet while sitting on a hill blowing up random shit.

      But for your concept, perhaps Black Sabbath's wizard is more approprate - silent, brooding, wielding more subtle powers.